Making a retreat is one of those events where there are a thousand reasons not to go but only one good one to go– to grow in the capacity to move from self to God. Movement is a sign you are alive. You can be physically and mentally alive but spiritually lethargic or even dead. One thing about the spiritual dimension in each of us is that we live in a physical body inhabited by reason and the ability to choose what is good for us. Grace builds on nature. As such, we can take our spiritual temperature to see if we are just coasting down the road of life or really engaged in the trip and enjoying the scenery. What we do and say OR DON’T DO OR SAY betrays our spiritual dimension. If you remember, we have the occasion to reflect on this at the beginning of the Eucharist when we say the prayer of penance to ask forgiveness for our sluggish approach to God and our neighbor.

Penitential Act Form A (Confiteor)

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

or, Form B

PRIEST: Have mercy on us, O Lord. PEOPLE: For we have sinned against you. PRIEST: Show us, O Lord, your mercy. PEOPLE: And grant us your salvation. or Form C PRIEST: Lord, have mercy. PEOPLE: Lord, have mercy. PRIEST: Christ, have mercy. PEOPLE: Christ, have mercy. PRIEST: Lord, have mercy. PEOPLE: Lord, have mercy.

(The Latin Form is)

PRIEST: Kyrie, Eleison. PEOPLE: Kyrie, Eleison. PRIEST: Christe, Eleison. PEOPLE: Christe, Eleison. PRIEST: Kyrie, Eleison. PEOPLE: Kyrie, Eleison.

Having a penitential mindset is very important because it is something not natural to our spiritual thinking. This simple reminder of who we are in relation to God and how we are what we are because we long to sit next to the heart of Christ and just be there is a definition of love. We are not perfect but Christ is perfect. We are bid to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. That is impossible because we are only human and not God, but Christ became one of us (human) so that we can at least approach the Father through, with, and in Him.


Contemplative retreats stress long periods of silence and solitude. All retreats are penitential, in that we withdrawal from the World so that we can come apart and rest awhile. This past week, August 19-22, 2019, to be exact, a group of us traveled to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia (near Atlanta) to spend some time with Jesus in contemplating how to grow and move more towards Christ and away from the World.

The topic of our focus was, of course, how Christ can increase and I can decrease. The book we used was called THE PLACE WHERE NO ONE WANTS TO LOOK: Six Questions humans must ask and answer before they die. These six questions are the foundation of spirituality (grace builds on nature). Christ has answered them in his behaviors, in teaching us how to love others as He loves us. This retreat presents some ideas about Christ’s love for us and then we listen.


Many of us grew up knowing a lot about what is a sin or isn’t. There might be a tendency to see our Catholic Faith as only conformity to rules. There is that aspect to it but it is by no means the core or center of spirituality. The core is “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) Being a professed Lay Cistercian, I try to do things and think things that bring me into the presence of the Mystery of Faith and ask God for enlightenment. It is a daily struggle to overcome the notion that I am not “sin-centered” but rather an adopted son of the Father who needs Christ to help me transform myself from the way the World thinks to God’s will. Penance, in this context, is putting humility where there is pride; Chastity where there is Lust; Love where there is hatred. I ask you to take some time and look at Bishop Barron’s talk on seven deadly sins and seven lively virtues.


A Monastic retreat is one where everything slows down. The prayers of the monks in choir (chanted first on one side then the other) are much slower than in the parish. This gives us time to actually focus on what is being said. One lady said it was like walking on molasses.

Coupled with the ambience produced by silence and solitude, the effects are quite astonishing. You must experience it to actually appreciate how it feels.


Father Cassian, O.C.S.O., a Trappist monk, shared with us some thoughts about contemplation and prayer. He used the Catechism of the Church to pull out some ideas, which we discussed. I have the complete handout he gave us so that you could read what we talked about.

The Catholic Catechism is one of the best resources I have found for study and meditation. I would never have guessed that. Here is an answer to the question, “What is contemplation?”


2709 What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: “Contemplative prayer [oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”6 Contemplative prayer seeks him “whom my soul loves.”7 It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord himself.

2710 The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter. One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state. The heart is the place of this quest and encounter, in poverty ant in faith.

2711 Entering into contemplative prayer is like entering into the Eucharistic liturgy: we “gather up:” the heart, recollect our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, abide in the dwelling place of the Lord which we are, awaken our faith in order to enter into the presence of him who awaits us. We let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed.

2712 Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more.8 But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God. Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son.

2713 Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty. Contemplative prayer is a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts.9 Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, “to his likeness.”

2714 Contemplative prayer is also the pre-eminently intense time of prayer. In it the Father strengthens our inner being with power through his Spirit “that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith” and we may be “grounded in love.”10

2715 Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.11

2716 Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a servant, and the loving commitment of a child. It participates in the “Yes” of the Son become servant and the Fiat of God’s lowly handmaid.

2717 Contemplative prayer is silence, the “symbol of the world to come”12 or “silent love.”13 Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the “outer” man, the Father speaks to us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus.

2718 Contemplative prayer is a union with the prayer of Christ insofar as it makes us participate in his mystery. The mystery of Christ is celebrated by the Church in the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit makes it come alive in contemplative prayer so that our charity will manifest it in our acts.

2719 Contemplative prayer is a communion of love bearing Life for the multitude, to the extent that it consents to abide in the night of faith. The Paschal night of the Resurrection passes through the night of the agony and the tomb – the three intense moments of the Hour of Jesus which his Spirit (and not “the flesh [which] is weak”) brings to life in prayer. We must be willing to “keep watch with [him] one hour.”14


2720 The Church invites the faithful to regular prayer: daily prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours, Sunday Eucharist, the feasts of the liturgical year.

2721 The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart.

2722 Vocal prayer, founded on the union of body and soul in human nature, associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart, following Christ’s example of praying to his Father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples.

2723 Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Its goal is to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life.

2724 Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.”

If you have not done so, plan to make a contemplative retreat at the Monastic Retreat House.


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